In recent years large tech companies have touted their website’s accessibility for all browsers of the internet. While laudable, the companies probably responded to litigation in changing their habits. Americans with standing under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been fighting for their legal right to access the internet and winning. Deaf, blind and visually impaired people are recognized as disabled under the ADA. They have filed suit to ensure their access to various businesses’ websites, but recently have begun targeting banks.
Banks offer many financial services through their websites. Banks are also federally regulated. Because of these two factors, the banking websites are most likely considered to be places of public accommodation under the ADA. Therefore a bank has litigation risk if its website is not ADA compliant. In preparing this article, I reviewed several websites for banks and credit unions. Some were large publically traded financial institutions. Some were community banks. Not one of the websites complied with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) that may be what the ADA requires.
Most financial institutions websites fail to comply with the ADA
A failure to comply with the ADA puts any given bank or credit union at risk of receiving a demand letter from attorneys representing a non-profit such as Access Now, Inc. Access Now, Inc. is a non-profit organization operating in 47 states that is dedicated to advancing the interests of blind and other disabled individuals. It is also a frequent plaintiff in lawsuits brought pursuant to the ADA, in which the organization requests a court order requiring that the defendant financial institution bring its websites into ADA compliance. The demand letter is not the end of the matter. If that demand goes ignored, the financial institution risks a lawsuit.
ADA litigation can be extremely expensive and time consuming. In ADA lawsuits, plaintiffs often seek declaratory judgment regarding violation of the law, injunctive relief to bring offending websites into compliance, costs of suit, and attorney's fees. Any demand letter received by a financial institution regarding its website’s failure to comply with the ADA should not be ignored, but instead forwarded to legal counsel.
Legal counsel will be able to reach out to plaintiffs' counsel with respect to the demand letters. This provides the financial institution the opportunity to respond directly to concerns raised by the demand letter regarding the purported accessibility for all its website users. One generally accepted method to resolve accessibility issues has been documented and standardized in version 2.0 WCAG.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website provides a clear example of accommodations for hearing and visually impaired users. Below are screenshots from its website that detail the button a user can click to make text larger, as well as an options for users to listen to the website content. When the button is hovered over with a mouse it expands for easier use.
Such functionality is simply not present on the current websites maintained by financial institutions. The next time you are internet banking, look for the WCAG 2.0 accessibility functionality in the header menu of the webpage. Chances are, it will not be there. As a result, many financial institutions are at risk of receiving a demand letter from plaintiff’s counsel for violation of the ADA.